John Ary here with another installment of Ain’t It Scary Reviews. Today, the residents of a boarding house wonder if the new tenant is actually a mass murderer.
There’s a serial killer on the loose in London, and an unassuming family may have just rented out a room to him. What’s great about 1927’s The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog, is you get to see Alfred Hitchcock in the early stages of his career. He builds tension, suspicion and a sense of dread without the luxury of dialogue. Instead, it’s all about brilliant cinematography and strong performances from his leads.
The movie starts with the discovery of a dead blonde girl... another victim of The Avenger, a serial killer that roams the streets every Tuesday night, searching for a female victim. The only lead police have to go on: he’s tall with something wrapped around his face. Also, with every victim he leaves his calling card, a piece of paper with his pseudonym inside a triangle. Early in the story we meet the Bunting family, an older couple who live in a big house with their beautiful blonde daughter and a police officer who also happens to be renting a room from them. The cop is head over heels in love with the daughter. Late one night an odd fellow shows up at their doorstep with money in hand wanting to lease a room. He’s tall, with a scarf wrapped around his face and dark tortured eyes. Is he the killer?
With the first two acts Hitchcock antagonizes the viewer with this new lodger’s ambiguous behavior. The best scenes of the movie involve the one-on-one interactions between the new lodger and the girl. The viewer could interpret his strange actions towards the beautiful blonde bombshell as sweetly awkward or awkwardly morose. The director constructs this constant guessing game perfectly, making you change your mind about our potential psychopath from scene to scene. A love triangle develops between the cop, the lodger and the beautiful blonde. Is it part of our mysterious tennant’s diabolical scheme or has he actually fallen for the damsel? Unfortunately the answers to these questions reveal themselves by the opening of the third act and we lose some of that dramatic tension derived from the unknown. If Hitchcock had gotten his way, we would have been left with a more ambiguous ending like the book. That’s unfortunate, because the third act could have used the same dramatic tension from earlier in the film.
Part of the fun here is watching Hitchcock experiment with visual storytelling so early in his career, with this representing his third film. For instance, while the lodger paces in his room, the family below looks up at the hanging lamp as it sways. Hitchcock creates an invisible floor. It’s an interesting effects shot that shows us both the Lodger’s actions and the perspective of the family. There is also a short montage at the beginning of the film that focuses on the faces of Londoners as they contemplate the murderous work of The Avenger. Each face conveys a powerful emotion while cross dissolving in and out of one another. You get the sense that large groups of people are terrified of this killer, yet the fear is personified and boiled down to individuals.
The story has been adapted several times over the years. That’s not only a testament to the source material, but Hitchcock’s early cinematic vision. The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog is a lesson in suspense.
The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog is currently streaming on Archive.org. It’s also available on DVD here.
Check back in tomorrow for another Ain’t It Scary Review as a group of young adults find a mysterious book in the woods that could unleash the powers of hell upon the world.
Here’s a look back at the Ain’t It Scary Review installments that you might have missed:
The Ground Rules to the Project
#1 Son of Frankenstein
#2 Scream, Blacula, Scream!
#3 Black Sabbath
#5 Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
#6 Invisible Invaders
#7 The Mummy’s Curse
#8 Lord of Illusions
#9 Night of the Demons
#10 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
#11 The House of the Devil
#12 Dr. Phibes Rises Again!
#14 The Catman of Paris
#17 Werewolf of London
#18 Tales from the Hood
#19 The Keep
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